At the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, fondly known as ‘The Caley’, our annual award ceremony had to be a virtual event this year, but that made it no less special. As ever, we were overwhelmed by the passion and commitment of those who work and volunteer in Scottish horticulture.
The upsurge in interest in gardening over the past year or so is encouraging. As people were forced to spend more time at home, any outside space became a valuable resource to be cherished and nurtured. The initial interest that came to the fore during the first lockdown has been maintained: we are answering more questions about growing and tending plants sent to us by the public than we have done in the past. The Caley has also seen an increase in membership, which is fantastic.
It is such a shame, therefore, that many community gardening and horticulture projects are so seriously underfunded. One of our award winners for this year singlehandedly maintained the garden he works in throughout the lockdown period and produced fruit and veg to be used by local food banks, yet his project is now looking for funding to keep him in post.
In the world of community horticulture, contracts tend to be short term (1 or 2 years) as funding cannot be guaranteed. Whilst everyone who works in horticulture will tell you that they do not do it for the money, some level of job security would be welcome.
Many of these projects provide access to an outdoor space. For many people in urban areas, this may be the only green space in their local area. We are all aware of the physical benefits of gardening and are hopefully becoming more aware of the benefits to our mental well-being. Gardening alone is great but being in a social setting, working with others, makes it a joy – and it is easy to socially distance but still feel part of something!
Our public green spaces are so important and have probably never seen so many visitors. The Caley’s home base of Saughton Park in Edinburgh is a vibrant space which was much appreciated by the local community during lockdown. The park is busy on a daily basis and for many, it is their only access to a green space. Local authority budgets are, however, stretched and under constant scrutiny which means that services can suffer. All too often, this means that maintenance of our public parks and green spaces are some of the first places that hard pressed local councils will look at for savings.
Many people do enjoy volunteering at their local public parks and green space, perhaps doing some gardening, litter picking, or a myriad of other jobs, and volunteer partnerships with local councils are a good way forward. This can be seen through the Beautiful Scotland campaign, ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’, and the number of ‘Friends’ of local parks groups across the country. The Caley has an excellent relationship with Edinburgh Greenspace Management along with the Friends of Saughton Park.
On the face of it, things seem to be thriving. We should be mindful, however, that priorities can change and the importance of local parks and green spaces as therapeutic spaces must always be remembered and cherished.
The growing interest in horticulture is really encouraging. We should be doing more to build on that interest to ensure that our local parks and green spaces continue to thrive as we move out of lockdown restrictions and life begins to return to normal. As the national charity for horticulture in Scotland, The Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society wants to be at the forefront of this movement, working with other national organisations and local groups. Please do get in touch if your group or organisation would like to connect or has a gardening question.
The Caley is always ready to welcome new members and offers a wide range of benefits to encourage you to join. From workshops and classes to talks and trips there is sure to be something to interest anyone in Scotland with a love of plants and gardening. Find out more about how to join Scotland’s National Horticultural and Gardening Society on their website.